How my strong-willed child is changing me—for the better
They say that parenting is all about picking your battles, but most days I feel as though the battles are picking me.
These days, everything is a battle with my strong-willed girl. She refuses most of the food I put in front of her, throwing it on the floor when I’m not looking, the thud causing every muscle in my body to tense.
She tries to squirm out of my arms when I lift her to the sink to wash her hands, as if I’m leading her into an act of torture. She thrashes around during diaper changes and arches her back as I try to buckle her into the carseat or the stroller or the high chair.
She’s also in the middle of the 18-month sleep regression, so my normally champion sleeper has become a champion sleep-fighter. She cries as I rock her and try to calm her down, cries when I put her in the crib, cries when I whisper reassurances that I love you and I know this is hard and you’re just so tired and everything will feel better after a few hours of sleep. (And everything will feel better after a few hours apart.)
She stands in her crib, crying in protest, and I return every few minutes to let her know I’m here and she’s safe. Eventually she calms herself, but in her stubbornness, remains standing, laying her head down on the edge of her crib. I watch her on the monitor as she starts to doze, her little legs wobbling and her eyelids heavy with sleep.
I find myself thinking a refrain from these last few months: When will it get easier? What I mean by that today is, Will we ever get to a day when not everything is a battle?
I long to be the calm, cool, collected mom. The one who navigates her toddler’s tantrums with empathy and understanding at all times. I pat myself on the back in the moments when I keep my cool even though everything in me wants to yell.
But too often I find that I’m bottling up my own feelings rather than dealing with them, and we all know how that story ends.
I know that my toddler’s whole job is to be an explorer of her world: to open cabinets and dump out the contents, to figure out which household items bounce when they hit the floor and which ones don’t, to push her limits and test her boundaries and determine what is hot, cold, bad, good, scratchy, soft, frustrating, fun.
I want to encourage her to be that explorer, even if it makes my house a mess. I want to let her feel her Very Big Feelings, support her through her meltdowns, remember that she’s not trying to be difficult.
But just as everything is a battle with my daughter, everything is also a battle with myself.
I battle my highly sensitive tendencies as she throws her tantrums. One of my biggest triggers is noise, so it’s so hard for me to remain calm in the moments when she’s screaming and I just need her to do this one incredibly simple task. I battle my need for order as she pulls an open bag of cheese off the counter (how did she even reach it?) and dumps it all over my freshly cleaned floors. I battle the guilt in the moments when her very normal frustration makes me irrationally angry, when I want to choose patience and instead I choose resistance.
They say that parenting is all about picking your battles, but most days I feel as though the battles are picking me, unrelenting and unyielding—and I know they will continue.
They may become less physical as my daughter grows, but they will be no less real and no less trying. Battles over chores and screen time and curfew and clothing will continue to consume me, if I let them.
For now, I’m trying to flip my perspective: I am my daughter’s ally, not her enemy.
It’s difficult to be her ally when she refuses my help, but I will keep offering this to her, extending not a white flag of surrender but an olive branch of peace.
I don’t want to discipline this wild spirit out of her, but I do want to help her harness it for good. I don’t want to punish her for doing age-appropriate things, but I do want to help her develop into a mature and responsible and capable human. My spirited Selah is a force to be reckoned with, and I want that to always be true of her.
There are no easy ways to measure the results of this parenting stuff—the daily work of shaping and shepherding, of disciplining and teaching, of showing up and telling the truth.
Even so, I set my long-term goals as high and far as I can: If my feisty little girl grows into a gutsy woman, one who knows the power of her no and the value of her body and the worth of her spirit, then I’ll have done my job.
The process to get there remains a mystery, one I’ll never stop trying to unravel for her sake, for mine, for the world’s.